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Captivating and breathtaking bajan


Gunapala Perera (Centre), flanked by Visharad Senarath Yapa (Tabla) and Lionel Gunatilleke (Serpina) at a performance.

by Jayampath Jayasinghe

The audience sat cross-legged on the ground and listened intently to the various ragas that he sang. There was pin drop silence when I walked into the Indian Cultural Centre recently.

The bajan he was singing was "Tumaka Chalatha Rama Chandra Bajatha Paijaniya," a Bajan composed by the famous poet Shri Thulsidas of India. The bajan describes vividly how prince Rama seen was hoping from one place to another with miniature bells on to his ankles. The poet also describes a scene where Rama and Krishna were playing the flute together.

The maestro vocalist who sang the bajan that say to the delight of many was G.M. Gunapala Perera. His unique style was both captivating was breathtaking.

Asked how such Raghadari (classical) songs could be sung to mesmerise the audience, Mr. Perera said that such tunes could be sung without altering its basic characteristics. Ragadahri music was called "Gurumushtik".

He says the style of presentation was important to capture the audience's attention. "Unfortunately many do not realise this when singing classical music which then becomes boring for the listener".

"People today do not appreciate classical music when it is poorly presented without innovation. Our local musicians for instance however qualified they may be, lack the art of presenting classical music. This may be why such music cannot be appreciated by many", he says.

Gunapala Perera studied music at the Bharatiya Sangeeth Vidyapith in Bombay, an institution affiliated to the renowned Bathkand University of Laknau. He went to India in the early sixties and studied music under several well-known music gurus like Shri Madukar Joshi, the son of famous Shri Gajanan Rau Jothi, and Godbole.

They were well versed in both vocal and instrumental music and were exponents of Indian Gwaliyalr Gharana, the oldest school of (Gurukulayas) music in India. The exponents of Gwaliyalr Gharana were gurus like D.V. Paleskar and his son Vishnu Didambar Paleskar and Shri O.M. Kartnath Thakur, famous personalities in India those days. Other famous musicians during this period were Abduul Kharim Khan and Faiz Khan, exponents of Kirana and Agra gharanas of music.

In the course of the conversation bits and pieces bubbled into his memory. "Several famous musicians who contributed a lot and enriched Indian classical music are not among the living any more. Sometimes tears have welled into my eyes by listening to famous Indian singers who have left a rich legacy behind", Perera says.

Gunapla Perera was awarded a degree after studying music and the violin for four years. His guru Shri Sodbole had taught him the violin and nuances of classical music. "The standard of music was quite high in Bombay those years. I studied under several famous gurus, who were well versed in both vocal and instrumental", he says.

Gunapala Perera, started life as a scenographer at the then Radio Ceylon but his natural love for music compelled him to join the Radio Ceylon Orchestra in the late forties. "This was prior going to India to study music", he recalls.

On his return to Sri Lanka, he found employment as a music instructor in the Education Department and continued to work in that capacity for nearly 26 years. During this time he also worked as a part time lecturer at the now defunct Haywood College today as the University of Aesthetic studies in Colombo. He has been an examiner of music for several years. Many well-known popular sinhalese musicians of today like Victor Ratnayake and others have been the pupils of Gunapala Perera.

Asked how he came to perform at the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo, Perera says the Indian Cultural Centre's Director, Mrs. Reenat Sandhu had invited him and his colleagues after seeing a musical show at the Sradha Nikethana Institute in Fort.

Others who performed at the Indian Cultural Centre alongside Gunapla Perera are well-known musicians at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Sitar player Lionel Gunatilleke and Visharad Sanath Senerath Yapa, a well-known Thabla player. They have been with the SLBC's orchestra for quite some time.

Visharad Yapa, kept the audience spellbound with his masterly handling of the Thabla. He had learnt to play the Thabla under Visharad P. Shelton Perera and Somaratna Perera. Later he studied music under Dr. Avarthi the Indian musician who came to Sri Lanka. At present he is a super grade musician at the SLBC and also lectures at the Saradha Nikethana Institute in Colombo. When famous Indian musicians call over at the SLBC, Senerath Yapa is usually assigned to cover their events.

Lionel Gunatilleke studied music under a well-known musician M.S. Fernando master during the 1930 period. He had studied music from M.S. Perera. During those days music was not taught at schools and there wern't colleges either to learn music.

He started his career in 1960 when he was chosen as a singer to take part in a Radio Ceylon musical programme called "Visipas Vasarakata Pere." twenty five years ago. The program was produced by Somachandra Pattiarachchi.

He recalled his association with giants like Eddie Junior, T.M.E. George Silva, W. Walter Silva known "Sudu Mahattaya" Alan Ratnayake, A.R.M. Ebrahim, Ahamed Mohideen, Albert Simmeon, Vincent Peiris, M. Ariyadasa in those days. They made an indelible mark in the local music scene and their popularity soared during the gramophone era.

Lionel had even studied music from Gunapala Perera. Lionel Gunatilleke is the son of a well-known author P.J.W. Goonetillke, a contemporary of John de Silva during the Tower Hall days. Asked to comment on the present day music, he said connoisseurs of classical rarely enjoy modern day pop music as it is more westernised.

Those who have an ear for classical music generally do not like pop music as it is devoid of Raghadari tunes, he says.

Having being a singer at the Radio Ceylon and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) for four decades, Lionel Gunatilleke is classified as a super grade singer. He became a supernumerary musician at the SLBC during the 1990 period. Sesha Palihakkara the popular actor of yesteryear says that the North Indian classical music especially the Raghadari music goes back to the Vedas.

Both the north and the south Indian music have integrated and it is difficult to say in which period this happened.

The construction of Raghadari music was influenced during the mogul period. It was mainly devotional music associated with the temple and musical instruments such as the sitar and the Thabla belonged to the mogul era.

"Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet also contributed a lot to Indian music.

His contribution to music known as Rabindrasangeeth was more influenced by Bengali music, he says.



Statue in memory of Adigar Leuke


The monument set up in memory of Adigar Leuke during the 1970ís, and a model of the proposed six foot statue. 

A proposal has been mooted by the Sitawaka Journalists Guild to erect a six foot statue in memory of Adigar Leuke Alias Leukemethindu who was beheaded by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe for failure in his duty, soon before the battle fought between the Kandyans and the British at Hanwella Fort on 6 September 1803.

The British who knew that the easiest way to capture the Kandyan kingdom was through Sitavake, took hold of the Hanwella Fort in 1803. Thus on August 21 1803 a battalion of about 50 soldiers under the leadership of Lieutinant Mercer of the 51st regiment arrived at Hanwella Fort.

No sooner than the king's men engaged in spying, carried the news to Kandy, the king ordered Adigar Leuke the bravest warrior of Satharakorale (the four korales) to organise a troop to attack the British, which he (Leuke) did within a few days time.

Meanwhile, Leuke who allowed the troop to rest at Kottellewela (Niripolewela) inspected the Fort area together with his assistant Palipane Muhandiram in disguise, from a point close to the mote of the fortress. Leuke told Palipane that it was nothing but a trifle for him to attack the Suddahs (the British) but that the attack should take place in the dark. Thus he postponed the attack and went back to Niripolawela where he had a good bath at Wakoya.

The king who arrived at Samanabedda at the given time saw no signs of an attack. He rode up river along the bank and crossed the river at Wanahagoda, where he saw Leuke enjoying with his fellow men at Niripolewela.

Enraged by the sight he yelled saying people should enjoy after performing the duty and instantly beheaded Leuke. Thus the Kandyans lost for ever, Adigar Leuke the chief commander of the four korales. The king ordered the troop to follow him and he himself attacked the Fort. But since it was into a well planned attack he could not face the gun shots fired at him by captain Pollocks and Lieutinant Mercer of the British army. Soon the king fled away for fear of his life and the troop followed suit.

Many versions of this gloomy incident of history are still prevalent in Hewagam Korale in the form of folk-lore stories.

In about 1973 the then cultural officer of the Hanwella DRO's office Miss Chandra Balasuriya made a proposal to Hanwella Divisional Revenue officer late Mr. Siriwardena Kalansooriya to set up a monument near the Niripolawela in memory of Adigar Leuke. Since the monument is a slab of stone about 3 feet high, it does not suit the present era. Therefore, the Sitawake Journalists Guild has mooted a fresh proposal to erect a six foot statue of Adigar Leuke near Niripolawela at the point where the Colombo-Avissawella low level road and the High Level road meet. The guild has already requested an interview with Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne to discuss the possibility of obtaining financial assistance for erecting the proposed statue.

Any person who wish to help make this proposal a success may write to "The Secretary, Sitawake Journalists Guild. No. 32, Pahala Hanwella, Hanwella."

Text and picture by Dharmasiri Wijeratne Hanwella Group Corr.


Ten new books


Anushka Wirasinha

Less than a year after the launch of her first 10 books, Harvard lecturer Anushka Wirasinha has published 10 more in a phenomenal burst of literary zeal.

Seven of the new books deal with Ms. Wirasinha's specialised subjects, computers and Information Technology, but in a characteristic display of versatility, she has also produced another volume of poetry, a sequel to her first science fiction novel, and a guide to beauty and self-development.

"Thoughts and ideas keep coming into my head, and I just write them down," she says of her extraordinary output which has resulted in the publication of 20 books in two years, four of them by major international publishers Prentice Hall and Universal Publishers. "I have been extremely lucky to have gained acceptance by a world renowned publisher such as Prentice Hall in the early part of my career.

This has enabled me to expand the readership of my books to countries outside of Sri Lanka and give them wide exposure in the world market," she says.

Her latest work reinforces Ms. Wirasinha's niche as a writer of computer books. She has created and registered her own series Master iT for which she has written three booklets, 'PC Private Eye' (134 pages), 'I want to teach the world to CLICK!' (128 pages) and 'Doctor PC' (163 pages).

Anushka Wirasinha's 20 books will be on display at the Vijitha Yapa Bookshop stall at the Colombo Book Fair at the BMICH from September 10-15.

HNB-Pathum Udanaya2002

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